SXSW Day 3: Alabama Shakes, Band of Skulls, Kimbra and More

Written by
Michael Kiwanuka (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

There is always a “moment” at SXSW. A second of pure music heaven when you realize why you are always so excited to be in Austin this time of year, despite how much work it takes to get here. I had TWO of those moments yesterday, both at KCRW’s own showcases, thanks to the Alabama Shakes and Band of Skulls.

I make every effort to see new music, but I’m prone to snap judgments because there is so much going on. So after some false starts at a few venues on 6th street (with the exception of the band Trust, signed to Arts & Crafts) I headed to KCRW’s Day Showcase at the Convention Center with high hopes. Michael Kiwanuka took the stage and the room was silent for a mesmerizing show that rested simply on his beautiful voice and a bit of acoustic guitar.

He now counts Alabama Shakes’ singer Brittany Howard among his fans as she was already backstage preparing for their set next. The room swelled with over a thousand people eager to hear one of the most talked about bands at the festival and none of them were disappointed. If there is ever a performer that belonged on stage, it’s Brittany. She owns it – wailing and howling and demanding attention with pure talent rather than pop artifice. It’s a wonderful thing to witness. You can feel it in your soul.

After a set from LA’s HoneyHoney, fronted by the sassy Suzanne Santo, we set up camp at our night showcase at a club called Haven.

Blood Orange was the PERFECT beginning to the evening. His music is made for nighttime and I loved hearing his voice – and watching his guitar playing – in person. He’s got something really special. Oberhofer followed with punchy pop songs that filled the place with energy. Ki:Theory turned off the lights and created an entirely different vibe.  They brought the dance party and when they played their single “I Wanna Run”, the recognition and appreciation in the audience was palpable.

Band of Skulls

At this point, I was wishing every band could play about twice as long as the time allotted, but we had to make room for Band of Skulls.  This is when I had my second “moment”, watching the UK rock trio totally dominate a crowd so packed you couldn’t even walk through it. They delivered on songs new and old – they are what I think rock ‘n’ roll should be, from the gut more so than the mind (which is why I love the Shakes so much as well).

Kimbra is a rock star in pop princess clothing. She thanked her band multiple times, which is so classy and rare it deserves mentioning. She’s young but she’s confident and has all the goods to back it up. I’m pretty sure we were watching a future star.

German band Apparat has barely toured the U.S. and they closed out the show to a crowd excited to get a taste for their live show.

One more official showcase left and many more shows to go…